Voting systems in California fail hack test

A computer security team sponsored by the California secretary of state finds three widely used electronic voting systems unsafe.

By Farhad Manjoo

Published July 31, 2007 11:00AM (EDT)

I missed noting this on Friday, but here's a quick update from the voting-tech beat: A team of hackers commissioned by California Secretary of State Deborah Bowen managed to hack into electronic voting machines made by three of the four largest suppliers in the industry, Diebold, Hart InterCivic, and Sequoia Voting Systems. After thoroughly testing each of these systems, the team -- led by Matthew Bishop, a computer science professor at the University of California, Davis -- found "several scenarios in which ... weaknesses could be exploited to affect the correct recording, reporting, and tallying of votes."

The biggest problem with each of these systems, Bishop told the New York Times, is that designers seemed to have added security measures as an afterthought rather than attempting "to build security in from the design, in Phase 1."

Voting industry reps criticized the attacks as not having been realistic; they say that no machine has yet been hacked during an election. Perhaps that's true -- but the upshot of this study, and the worry of a long line of voting activists, is that if a hack had been carried out during an election, we wouldn't know it.

Bowen says she will decide this week whether to allow the compromised systems to be used in the next election. Lawmakers in Washington aren't moving nearly so swiftly; Democrats are still debating whether to push improvements to voting technology by the 2008 race.

See the hacking team's overview here; also check out the separate reports on Diebold, Hart, and Sequoia systems -- all links go to PDF files. And Kim Zetter's report provides additional insight.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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